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How to build a high-powered microscope with Lego and cheap smartphone lenses

Lego microscope
(Image credit: github.com/tobetz)

It’s incredible how much power we're carrying around in our pockets, without even realizing it. For instance, did you know modern smartphones have lenses so advanced that you can use them to see individual cells?

Recently, scientists at the Universities of Göttingen and Münster in Germany decided to take advantage of this. And so they found a way to combine these lenses – which they bought for just a few dollars each – inside a Lego structure, to build a low-cost but high-resolution microscope. 

This is no toy: in fact, this device is powerful enough to rival the larger and more expensive microscopes commonly used in scientific labs. And the researchers have shared a step-by-step guide for building your own, here.

(Image credit: github.com/tobetz)

(Image credit: github.com/tobetz)

If you don't have the required parts already, you can order them all on the web, and there's no need for specialist equipment or a 3D printer.

This free guide includes the building instructions for the microscope, along with details of the lenses you need and where you can buy them. 

The smartphone lens the researchers recommend using is taken from an iPhone 5s camera module, which are currently available on eBay for just a few dollars. Plus they've even provided links to buy the specific Lego bricks, if you don't already have them in your toy cupboard.

(Image credit: github.com/tobetz)

The construction of the microscope is simple enough that even kids of nine and upwards can complete it with adult supervision, making for a fun and rewarding family or school project. 

That said, this device is not just for kids. The ability to image micrometer-sized objects will have obvious appeal to adults too, whether you want to do so for your own scientific research, as part of an art project, or just for fun. 

If the idea spreads, we wonder if smartphone companies will take note, and start making their own versions. Could we be seeing the first iCroscopes in Apple Stores soon? If so, we'll be the first to let you know about it.

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Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella.